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OPEN LETTER: A plea to the Chief Minister from the fitness industry

OPEN LETTER: A plea to the Chief Minister from the fitness industry

Tuesday 23 February 2021

OPEN LETTER: A plea to the Chief Minister from the fitness industry


Jersey's fitness and wellbeing sector is calling on the Chief Minister to announce a restart date, and consider a 'Work Out to Help Out' scheme to get sports businesses match-fit again after covid restrictions wiped out their finances.

After months of emails they say have been ignored by Ministers, the 'Association of Health and Fitness Jersey', which represents scores of businesses and professionals in the industry, has decided to take its latest appeal public, sharing this letter with Express...

Dear Chief Minister and Council of Ministers,

Jerseys Health and Fitness sector is beyond frustrated following the Governments announcement on Friday 12 Feb with reference to ongoing covid restrictions. The final insult to a sector on the brink of collapse, was continuing to keep us closed, while allowing other sectors with more capacity for spread and less capacity for containment to re-open. Whilst we are delighted for our peers to be re-opening it makes no sense that we were missed yet again. 

Throughout this pandemic, gyms have had to close first and open last despite overwhelming data for their safety. We were missed off initial funding measures and have largely been forgotten - an after thought with next to no communication given to us despite all we have tried to do to work with you on our safe re-opening. 

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Pictured: Gyms had to close first and open last.

We as a sector have made every attempt to professionally and privately engage with you over the last 12 months to no avail.

Whilst we very much appreciate the sentiment of the Public Health Department ref the importance of our sector to the health and wellbeing of our community, and really felt their support when we met with them, we are saddened to say that we do not see this in terms of any visible and actionable support for the sector by the Council of Ministers. 

The global picture on gyms

The global evidence thus far shows that gyms are recognised as a low risk of spread, and widely congratulated for having some of the most comprehensive covid protocols of all sectors. The latest UK data, representing around 2,000 facilities and 55 million visits, shows an overall rate of just 1.41 cases per 100,000 visits, measured from 25 July to 25 October 2020. We do not believe Jersey is an outlier and seen no evidence to contradict this. To put this in perspective, it would take approximately 10 weeks based on weekly visitor numbers in Jersey clubs to gain two positive covid cases. 

Concerns for mental and physical health

The Chief Ministers reconnection Press Conference focused on the importance of our Islands mental health citing that there has been a significant and sharp increase in mental health referrals and eating disorders.

The UK announced only yesterday (Monday 22 Feb) that gyms will be one of the first business sectors to open in Stage 2 alongside hair salons on 12 April 2021. The UK has reviewed the global data and science and put gyms front and central at the start of restriction easing.

Our unique contribution to our island 

The contribution we make to peoples health, both physical and mental is unequivocal and can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and depression. As a sector, we work with many people in our community who do not seek or want medical intervention and would rather manage their mental health by way of developing healthy habits such as going to the gym. 

Gyms and fitness centres offer the health promotion that our Government currently doesn't have the resources for. Yes, it's true that people can do outside or home workouts, but there's nothing quite like being in a safe and supportive community, a welcoming class or chatting to your personal trainer for motivation and encouragement. Many of our members report that they are flagging despite their best efforts, and with the confused government messaging, many are unsure as to what they are 'allowed' to do or indeed what is safe” to do. 

A healthy message

We need to as a matter of urgency gain back public confidence in what we do – that going to the gym outweighs the very small risk. We have a moral responsibility to do so for the health of our Island and the financial health of this vital sector. We simply do not have the weeks to sit back and wait – the sector is in real danger of not recovering.

"Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths (equal to smoking) and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4 billion annually (including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone). Unfortunately, our population is around 20% less active than in the 1960s. If current trends continue, it will be 35% less active by 2030. 

More people will die as a result of inactivity than of the coronavirus. Our sector is a vital part of the preventative action that needs to be taken to ensure we keep our Island healthy. 

The financial reality

We have invested in buildings where contrary to actions taken thus far, data demonstrates are easier to contain in terms of risk than some other sectors you have opened. Our deep cleaning protocols, air filtration systems, track and trace and other covid measures are significantly easier to monitor and regulate in our type of facilities. With a lack of funding in place to adequately deal with the costs of these large facilities, current financial measures are not enough.

Money Pounds

Pictured: "Current financial measures are not enough."

The fixed costs contribution scheme, whilst welcomed, does not adequately reflect the rising costs as facilities get bigger and using rateable value as a means of assessment has disadvantaged our sector considerably. 

A clear and transparent plan

We are yet to see sight of a transparent and clear reconnection plan and/or strategy for the reopening of health and fitness. 

We ask that instead of an increase to our fixed costs contribution, that the Government invests in a 'Work Out to Help Out' scheme, much like the £100 vouchers gifted last year, to enable people to get back to exercise in a safe and controlled manner visibly demonstrating your commitment to public health and specifically addressing the mental health concerns you voiced on Friday.

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Pictured: Why not consider a fitness incentive scheme like the previous £100 voucher scheme?

Rather than £100 per person to spend on non-healthy pursuits, we would like to see each person gaining a £20 voucher to spend in a fitness/sport/health related pursuit.

Finally…

We need you to communicate with us, return our emails and requests for a review of the handling of our sector during this crisis. 

Please, for the good of public health, the public purse (inactivity costs, according to the UK government, stand at £7billion every year) and for the future of our SME business, please open gyms as a matter of urgency.

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Pictured: "We need you to communicate with us, return our emails and requests for a review of the handling of our sector during this crisis."

Given the risk of viral transmission in gyms, it seems foolhardy to keep closed, the very places that are key to maintaining and promoting health in our communities. 

If we are not aided soon, our conclusion will be that our Government has chosen “wealth before health” in its decision-making of what to open, and what to keep closed. 

The Association of Health and Fitness Jersey 

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